Monday, 18 September 2023

Black Boots, Leather Whip (1983)

Black Boots, Leather Whip (Botas negras, látigo de cuero) is one of the many movies Jess Franco made featuring private eye Al Pereira.

Al (Antonio Mayans) is about to leave town in a hurry. He owes a lot of money to some guys and they’re not guys who are very understanding about such things. Just as he’s about to leave Lina (Lina Romay) shows up and offers him a really simple job. All he has to do is go to the auto junkyard and retrieve her purse from the boot of a wrecked Dodge. For that he’ll get five thousand dollars.

It seems simple but two guys with guns turn up at the wrong moment. The two guys end up dead.

Al doesn’t look like a tough guy but obviously he is. We find out later that he’s an ex-cop with an unsavoury criminal record.

Lina manages to persuade Al that she didn’t set him up. She pays him his money and then since she has half an hour to kill she suggests they have sex. Which they do.

They decide to see each other again. Lina does a kinky nightclub act in the Whip of Leather, a club owned by her husband.

It’s not an ideal marriage since her husband Daniel isn’t interested in girls.

Daniel is part of a criminal gang involved in the usual rackets such as prostitution and drugs. If anything were to happen to any member of the gang that person’s share would be divided among the survivors. If Daniel were to be the last survivor Lina would be his heiress. If something were then to happen to Daniel Lina would get everything. Lina thinks this would be a good thing. If Al agrees to kill all the members of the gang he and Lina can go away together, with all that money.

That’s the plot and the first thing that will occur to Franco fans is that it’s a very straightforward conventional plot for a Franco movie. There is none of the dreamlike quality or the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality that you get in his best movies. This movie is almost aggressively grounded in reality.

It’s also a movie that has obvious affinities with film noir. The plot is pure film noir. Stylistically Franco is going for a neo-noir vibe - it’s a film noir story but he makes no attempt to capture the classic film noir visual style. This is film noir with an 80s visual sensibility.

This is not actually all that startling. Franco made a couple of good noirish crime films early in his career - Rififi in the City (1963) and Death Whistles the Blues (1964). They’re not only very competent exercises in film noir, they also have a very Franco-esque jazz-fuelled vibe.

It’s very odd to come across a Franco movie that doesn’t feature strange and interesting locations but Black Boots, Leather Whip is rather dull in this respect. Which may have been deliberate - it’s likely that he was aiming for a very stark very gritty look. The kind of weird fanciful bizarre architecture that Franco loved would have been a distraction. The movie was shot in Malaga but Franco is aiming for a mean hostile urban feel. He does pull off one very nifty noirish scene in a corridor - it’s simply done but very noir.

The problem is that although Franco understood film noir he wasn’t especially adept at suspense or action. There are scenes that needed a more effective building of suspense. The action scenes are competent but not exactly inspired. And the pacing is on the slow side.

What it does have is an interesting protagonist. We learn what we need to know about Al Pereira right at the start. He’s capable of brutal casual violence. He’s entirely immoral. He’s impulse-driven, particularly in regard to sex. Antonio Mayans’ performance is impressive.

Franco tells us what we need to know about Lina just as economically. She is scheming and ruthless. She is totally pragmatic when it comes to sex. She wants to be rich. She has one weapon she can use and that weapon is sex but in her hands it’s a very potent weapon. She is the femme fatale and Lina Romay does a fine job although perhaps her character needed just a bit more of a backstory.

While Franco was clearly going for film noir in commercial terms this movie (had it been made for a company that actually bothered to promote it) would have been marketed as an erotic thriller and there is a huge amount of sex. Franco does however manage to ensure that the sex scenes do advance the plot and do add to our knowledge of the characters’ motivations.

This was made during Franco’s period with Golden Films. They gave him total creative control but unfortunately when it came to distribution they were totally incompetent. Franco got to make the movies he wanted to make the way he wanted to make them but very few people got to see them.

I’m not sure this movie is a total success but it is an interesting neo-noir with an extraordinarily nihilistic flavour and it’s fun seeing Lina Romay do the femme fatale thing. This is a Franco obscurity, but an intriguing one. Recommended.

Severin have released Black Boots, Leather Whip on both Blu-Ray and DVD in a nice-looking transfer with some worthwhile extras.


Randall Landers said...

Sounds awefully similar to Body Heat (1981). How does it compare?

dfordoom said...

Randall Landers said...
Sounds awefully similar to Body Heat (1981). How does it compare?

Yeah, kinda similar thematically. But being a Franco movie, wildly different in style.

Definitely not quite as successful as Body Heat (which is one of my favourite movies) but seeing the idea executed in such a different way is interesting. And I do think Black Boots, Leather Whip is worth seeing. It has neo-noir nihilism in spades. Franco understood noir - he'd been making occasional forays into noir since the early 60s.